It seems like we have at last covered enough ground to get right to the primary objective of this blog – to point to the precise reason why Jodoshinshu can be considered by Shinran Shonin to be the ne plus ultra of Ekayana Buddhism – Dharmic praxis par excellence.
Thomas Cleary, in the introduction to his translation of and commentary on the Carya Gita (the Tantric Poems of the Siddhas of old Bengal), mentions that Buddhism is a continuum:
In the first stage [purification], living is a form of responsibility; in the second stage [integration], living is a form of duty; in the third stage [re-creation], living is a form of artistry, encompassing responsibility and duty in creative devotion. Living in all its many aspects becomes a practical art of expressing a constructive relationship with absolute truth in the context of life. Tantra is the consummation of the wedding of absolute and relative knowledge, of insight and compassion.
He also writes that:
In the context of Tantric Buddhism, the principles of Hinayana and Mahayana Buddhism are personified as supernal beings … Those who only observe from outside, or those within [the] tradition who have forgotten what they are doing, may see or experience this kind of practice as a form of idolatry … From a unitarian pan-Buddhist [i.e. Ekayana] point of view, however, the differences are only external.
As we have mentioned elsewhere on this blog, Jodoshinshu employs effort (remembrance / calling, nembutsu) to arrive at effortlessness (Sukhavati, Jodo, the Pure Land). In this it is very similar to Chan. The great Japanese Zen master, Dogen (a contemporary of Shinran who was also originally a Tendai monk), similarly employed effort (meditating / sitting, zazen) to arrive at effortlessness (Dhyana / Chan / Zen).
In his Genjōkōan (現成公案), Dogen has written:
To study the Way is to study the Self. To study the Self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be enlightened by all things of the universe. To be enlightened by all things of the universe is to cast off the body and mind of the self as well as those of others. Even the traces of enlightenment are wiped out, and life with traceless enlightenment goes on forever and ever.
In the Bendōwa (弁道話), Dogen indicates the rationale behind using effort to arrive at effortlessness:
Thinking that practice and enlightenment are not one is no more than a view that is outside the Way. In Buddhadharma, practice and enlightenment are one and the same. Because it is the practice of enlightenment, a beginner’s wholehearted practice of the Way is exactly the totality of original enlightenment. For this reason, in conveying the essential attitude for practice, it is taught not to wait for enlightenment outside practice.
This is Adi-Yoga (Anuyoga / Atiyoga), the quintessence of all tantras, it is the heart of Dzogchen and Mahamudra, the root of Chan / Zen and the essence of Jìngtǔ / Jodoshu / Jodoshinshu.
Sakya Pandita has written of this same unity of effort and effortlessness, of the non-duality of practice and enlightenment:
If one understands this tradition properly,
Then the view of Atiyoga too
Is wisdom and not [merely] a vehicle.
The Guhyagarbhatantra describes how, in the creation stage (corresponding to the first stage mentioned by Cleary, above), one visualises a deity. This visualization or exteriorization is followed by a dissolving of the deity into oneself (this relates to the second stage mentioned by Cleary). This dissolving is followed by coming to rest in the natural state of innately luminous pure mind (which in turn corresponds to the third stage mentioned by Cleary).
All of which brings us back to that oft-mentioned quote from the Anjin-Ketsujo-Sho, on Amida and Practitioners as One Body:
With Pity, Amida fixes his attention on us so that his mind-and-heart penetrates as deep as the marrow of our bones and stays there. It is like a piece of charcoal that has caught fire. We cannot pluck the fire from the burning charcoal however much we try. The embracing light of his mind-and-heart shines on us right through to the core of our flesh and bones. Even though it is contaminated with the three poisons of greed, hatred and illusion and with every other defiling passion and anxiety, there is no region of our heart that is not saturated with the Buddha’s virtue. Thus the Buddha and sentient beings constitute one body from the beginning. This state of unity is called Namu Amida Butsu.
The crux of this matter, and indeed it is the crux of all Buddhadharma, is recorded succinctly in the Samyutta Nikaya:
I (the Buddha) crossed the flood only when I did not support myself or make any effort.
This cessation of effort and spontaneous arising of effortlessness is the naturalness (jinen) spoken of by Shinran.
For instance in Ichinen-tanen mon’i (Notes on Once-Calling and Many-Calling):
In entrusting ourselves to the Tathagata’s Primal Vow and saying the Name once, necessarily, without seeking it, we are made to receive the supreme virtues, and without knowing it, we acquire the great and vast benefit. This is dharmicness, by which one will immediately realize the various facets of enlightenment naturally. “Dharmicness” means not brought about in any way by the practicer’s calculation; from the very beginning one shares in the benefit that surpasses conception. It indicates the nature of jinen. “Dharmicness” expresses the natural working (jinen) in the life of the person who realizes shinjin and says the Name once.
Shinran discusses the stages mentioned above in the following terms:
Gyaku means to realize in the causal stage, and toku means to realize on reaching the resultant stage.
Myo indicates the Name in the causal stage, and go indicates the Name in the resultant stage.
Ji means “of itself” – not through the practicer’s calculation. It signifies being made so. Nen means “to be made so” – it is not through the practicer’s calculation; it is through the working of the Tathagata’s Vow.
And yet again:
Jinen signifies being made so from the very beginning. Amida’s Vow is, from the very beginning, designed to bring each of us to entrust ourselves to it – saying Namu-amida-butsu – and to receive us into the Pure Land; none of this is through our calculation. Thus, there is no room for the practicer to be concerned about being good or bad. This is the meaning of jinen as I have been taught.
As the essential purport of the Vow, [Amida] vowed to bring us all to Supreme Buddhahood. The Supreme Buddha is formless, and because of being formless is called jinen. Buddha, when appearing with form, is not called Supreme Nirvana. In order to make it known that the Supreme Buddha is formless, the name Amida Buddha is expressly used; so I have been taught. Amida Buddha fulfills the purpose of making us know the significance of jinen.
Shinran Shonin also provides a caution against the danger of slipping back into effort after arriving at effortlessness:
After we have realized this [i.e. jinen-honi), we should not be forever talking about jinen. If we continuously discuss jinen, the no-working that is True-Working will again become a problem of working. It is a matter of inconceivable Buddha-wisdom.
To cling to concepts of effortlessness, original enlightenment, and Buddha-Nature is still clinging and is thus a return to effort, adventitious delusion, and self-nature.
The Ekayana is the One Vehicle. The One Vehicle is the Buddha Vehicle. The Buddha Vehicle, properly understood, is no vehicle at all – rather it is inconceivable Buddha-wisdom.